Legal changes would require explanation for questionable wealth in B.C.

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VICTORIA — British Columbia has tabled changes to a law that would require people or companies to explain how they obtained their cash, fancy homes and luxury cars if there’s a suspicion they came from criminal activity.

The government says the creation of unexplained wealth orders will help prevent money laundering by those who hide assets with family members or associates.

If there is reason to suspect property was acquired through crime and the person doesn’t appear to have sufficient income to own what they have, a B.C. Supreme Court judge could require them to explain their income sources.

Unexplained wealth orders alone are not orders to forfeit property, but information gathered could be used in later civil forfeiture proceedings.

Similar laws exist in Manitoba, Ireland, Australia, the United Kingdom and New Zealand, but critics have raised civil liberties concerns saying they undermine the presumption of innocence and place an onus of proof on the target.

The wealth order was among numerous recommendations made last June in the final commission of inquiry report into money laundering by retired judge Austin Cullen.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth says in a statement that the orders will be a key tool to combat organized crime.

“By exposing property for forfeiture actions, we are removing this incentive and sending a clear message to anyone involved in organized crime that crime doesn’t pay,” he says.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 30, 2023.

The Canadian Press

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